Standing Room Only
Reported by Stanley Penkin
The history of the Centennial Mills property is a long and sad one. As one of the most historic and iconic properties in the Pearl District, and the entire city, there was much optimism about this prime riverfront site being developed into a unique and significant project benefitting the whole city.
Purchased by the Portland Development Commission (PDC) in 2000, there was great anticipation that the city would guide this project to fruition. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. An agreement with a developer in 2008 fell through leading to a lawsuit that was eventually settled. The most recent 2013 agreement with Harsch Investments again fell apart, suddenly and unilaterally on the part of PDC. With no public process, PDC surprisingly announced last year that portions of the site and possibly the entire site would be demolished. Selective demolition is currently underway, but there is fear that the two most important and iconic buildings, the flour and feed mills, may be next for the wrecking ball.
With that as background, a standing room crowd packed the Pure Space meeting room on January 21st for a Centennial Mills Town Hall sponsored by the Pearl District Neighborhood Association (PDNA) and Jordan Schnitzer of Harsch Investments. Led by Patty Gardner, President of PDNA and Chair of its Planning Committee, the crowd heard the history of the city’s involvement with the property including an agreement in 2005 to keep portions of the site for historical purposes, and the creation in 2006 of a Framework Plan to guide future development. Historian Chet Orloff then presented a slide show relating the historic importance of Centennial Mills and Oregon’s prominent wheat industry dating back to the early 1800’s.
Jordan Schnitzer followed with a presentation of his team’s numerous options for development, with associated costs, that would fulfill the objectives of the Framework Plan by:
- preserving open space
- maintaining historic character
- being a focal point
- being sustainable
- strengthening connections
Mr. Schnitzer stressed the importance of this site being a legacy for Portland and the region. Having put together an impressive team of planners, designers and engineers, renderings of the options were available for the audience to see. Mr. Schnitzer spoke about not being permitted by PDC to engage the public in the process and then being surprised by the City’s unilateral decision to proceed with demolition. The costs of developing the site and the public investment portion are an issue, but Mr. Schnitzer noted that there could be many creative ways to find the necessary funding. The crowd applauded with approval when Mr. Schnitzer stated, “the city has lost its way.”
The Town Hall ended with questions from the audience and Ms. Gardner reminding everyone who wants the site to be saved to please write letters to the Mayor, PDC and the newspapers.
To learn more log on to millmeeting.org